Transcending Gendered Norms of Leadership in Higher Education: How Women do it

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This study aims to undertake an examination of the gendered nature of leadership in a modern university in the United Kingdom (UK). We draw attention to how Higher Education (HE) is a unique context as it initially excluded women for years. During the 1860s when the higher education of women was considered acceptable, only a limited number of women enrolled at university. This has increased dramatically over the course of several decades and in 2016 women in the UK were 35% more likely to enrol at university than men. This gender disparity is only expected to grow given the financial benefits a degree provides to women. The increase in women in higher education however, is not represented in the number of women in the top echelons of management. Women in leadership positions in higher education are still one of the key challenges for universities. Previous research on women in academia found that women account for at least 50% of the junior faculty suggesting that barriers against women's entry to academia have been removed; however, research finds that discrimination persists in terms of promotion and tenure. Extant research on women in academia has also tended to focus on the gender pay gap as female professors continue to be paid less than their male counterparts. We surmise that while gender pay gaps are still an issue requiring further attention, in this paper, we opt to reflect on the factors affecting women’s promotion to executive leadership positions within higher education. Thus, our research explores the question of: how women in academia can transcend gendered norms of leadership in higher education. We aim to explore this through a qualitative, exploratory study of women in academia at a modern university in the UK. We plan to interview three women in executive leadership positions and five women holding senior lectureship positions. Assessing the factors that both hinder and encourage female executive leadership in the HE context provides an opportunity to develop a framework through which possible trajectories of action can be shared with female researchers and educators in higher education.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Conference on Gender Research
EditorsAna Azevedo, Anabela Mesquita
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2018
EventInternational Conference on Gender Research - Porto, Portugal
Duration: 12 Apr 201813 Apr 2018
Conference number: 1


ConferenceInternational Conference on Gender Research
Abbreviated titleICGR
Internet address


  • critical mass theory
  • gender diversity index
  • earnings management
  • female directors


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